Here in North Texas, many of us are accustomed to seeing a few birds fall from the sky. It is a natural thing. A sport. We generally expect it on a chilly morning near the duck blind or when 'ol Blue goes on the point.
Yet, on New Year's Eve in Beebe, Arkansas, several frightened citizens called 911 claiming there were birds falling from the sky. These were red-winged blackbirds. The residents of the small town were dumbfounded as the birds seemed to lose all of their navigational skills and plunge into buildings and structures as they fell to their deaths. The official explanation released by the experts claimed that they were frightened from their roost by fireworks and that they "got lost" in the dark and were bumping into things.
I don't know about you, but as for myself and a number of other people that I have talked to this week, we are having a hard time buying into that one. I have seen a lot of fireworks displays over the years, substantially larger than what might have been exploded in that small town, and have not had a single bird freak out and fall to it's death. However, as the local officials investigated, they found that over 1,000 red-winged blackbirds had actually fallen on the city's streets and buildings.
I've been to Beebe and generally there's not a lot going on. Certainly nothing to rate International headlines. Now, these bird carcasses are being sent to top scientists around the globe for examination. I know that Beebe Mayor Mike Robinson will settle for nothing else than a plauseable explanation for this phenomenon.
Two days ago, the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, England, posted a headline story on the latest bird drop. It detailed the 1,000 turtle doves that fell from the sky in Italy. The turtle dove incident happened in the town of Faenza in northern Italy. This latest bird kill was the largest number of mass animal kills in Europe, 50 dead birds were also found in Sweden earlier this week.
Yesterday, Paul Slota, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., which has been tracking mass animal deaths since the 1970s, told the Wall Street Journal that mass animal kills are not uncommon. ”In the last 10 years we have logged 188 cases just involving birds with mortality exceeding 1,000 animals per event,” he said.
I just have to say, that's a lot of bird droppings.
As I looked into this, I found many related tales of birds, fish, frogs and other amphibians falling from the sky for no apparent reason. In 1954 in Birmingham, England, there was a heavy rainstorm and to the amazement of the people in the streets, hundreds of small frogs came down with the rain. The frogs fell on people's hats, coats and umbrellas. They landed on cars, on the roof tops and on the footpaths. The frogs fell gently and didn't seem to be hurt by their fall, and just hopped happily away.
In 1834 a Pennsylvania newspaper reported that a large number of mussels had fallen into a prison yard. The prisoners were very pleased, and quickly opened the mussels and ate them. Another report from 1830 claims that a group of people at a factory in India saw what they thought was a flock of birds flying down fast toward the ground. This turned out to be a shower of large fish and they were all dead. Some were fresh, some were rotten and smelly, and some had no heads, the report states.
The more you look, the more you'll find reports of animals falling from the sky like this. Maybe this is why we say “it’s raining cats and dogs” when we're talking about a very heavy fall of rain. But, I didn't actually find any reports of cats or dogs coming down in the rain.
Could a whirlwind pick up some frogs or fish from a pond and later drop them on a street? Maybe, but a whirlwind would also take all the mud, scum, muck and pond weed too. So what is the answer? Do you know?
Evidently there are other recent occurrences of this phenomenon in other states. Missouri, Louisiana, and Kentucky are also reporting incidences of massive unexplained bird deaths within confined areas. It sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie, like “Close Encounters” or “The Birds.” I am sure there will be some logical, scientific, non-fiction resolution to the mystery, but I don't think it will be about fireworks.
Around here, the large flocks of red-winged blackbirds are fascinating to watch as they turn and navigate together with such incredible precision. The flash of red that can be seen at just the right moment as the flock turns is beautiful.
Jim Perry is the publisher of the Gainesville Daily Register. He can be reached via email at email@example.com